Gregory started as an administrative assistant in public relations in 1976, six months before the franchise’s first game. She left as the beacon of their community outreach and the vital liaison to former players, who got the Gregory touch whether they were Hall of Famers or third-stringers.
The Seahawks these days are reeling from the loss of a foundational member of their organization, someone beloved and respected by everyone and deemed virtually irreplaceable.
Kam Chancellor’s absence will be tough, too.
On June 29, Sandy Gregory walked out the VMAC door in Renton for the final time, heading toward a well-earned retirement that ended a 42-year Seahawks career. It’s safe to say no one touched more hearts, and did more good work, much of it in anonymity (by her choice), than Gregory.
“She was the heartbeat and soul of the organization,’’ said Gary Wright, the longtime Seahawks executive. “She just gave so much. She gave her whole self to that organization and everyone in it.”
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The Seahawks’ last remaining original employee, Gregory started as an administrative assistant in public relations in 1976, six months before the franchise’s first game. She left as the beacon of their community outreach and the vital liaison to former players, who got the Gregory touch whether they were Hall of Famers or third-stringers.
“You know how they say Cortez (Kennedy) or (Steve) Largent or Kenny Easley is ‘Mr. Seahawk?’ She should be ‘Mrs. Seahawk,’ ” said Jacob Green, a Seahawks Ring of Honor member. “Sandy gave her whole life to the Seahawks.”
It’s telling that Green and Largent were both eager to call me to extol the virtues of Gregory.
“There’s just a few individuals I associate with the Seahawks at that time (of his career), and Sandy is front and center, along with Gary Wright,’’ Largent said. “I have always counted her as a real dear friend and always appreciated the role she played when I was with the Seahawks. I gained even more insight and love for her due to the way she continued to serve other Seahawks, me and the whole community.”
When I started making inquiries for this column, a couple Seahawks people said Gregory probably wouldn’t talk to me – not out of rudeness but out of modesty. She steadfastly refused a going-away party on her last day and was embarrassed (though gratified) when a who’s who of current and former Seahawks lauded her on social media.
Quarterback Russell Wilson called her “a legend.” Former linebacker Chad Brown termed her “the rock that the Seahawks have been built on.” Former quarterback Trent Dilfer dubbed her “one of the greatest Seahawks of all time.”
Much to my pleasure, Sandy agreed to an interview – probably so she could pass on her gratitude to the Seahawks players whom she insists are the real heroes here.
“This is not about me; it’s about the players,’’ she said. “I’m just the person asking guys to do stuff. Without the players, I can’t do anything.”
But Gregory did so much. As director of community services for numerous years, she was the point person for all Seahawks appearances, be it at charitable functions or school assemblies, as well as the one who made the Make-A-Wish visits run smoothly. You can’t do any of that without having earned the trust – and affection – of players, most of whom found it impossible to say no to Sandy.
In her most recent incarnation as senior director of legends, team history and special projects, her primary job was to make former players, in her words, “feel connected to the team, and feel important.”
She made sure ex-players knew what benefits were available to them. She was the organizer of the annual Alumni Weekend that brings former Seahawks players together in Seattle. Most important, she started a Legends Assistance Fund to help – confidentially – ex-Seahawks who had hit hard times. The fund is supplied, in part, by current players who put aside fine money for the purpose.
It’s a far cry from the early days, when Gregory left her native Southern California to go to a city completely unknown to her. Gregory had worked with Don Andersen at USC and with the Southern California Sun of the World Football League. When the WFL folded, Andersen got the head P.R. job with the expansion Seahawks, and he hired Gregory and Wright.
She did it all in those days, secretarial work as well as planning the halftime shows, booking the national-anthem singers and even ordering the boots and pompoms for the cheerleaders.
“If there was a piece of equipment in the old days, Sandy knew how to operate it,’’ Wright recalled. “No one else did. In those days, the PR department ran literally everything off the field other than actually selling the tickets and being in the business department paying bills. Everything else you see today – marketing, promotion, community outreach – all those were run by PR.”
Gregory was in the middle of it, winning players’ hearts in the process. As Green said, “She never turned her back on anybody. It didn’t matter if you were there for one year, two years, 10 years, she always treated guys the same.”
Largent, Kennedy and Walter Jones all invited Gregory to their Hall of Fame ceremonies. For 22 years, Gregory and Wright worked at the Super Bowl running the media center, enabling her to develop close relationships with colleagues around the NFL.
One of Gregory’s fondest memories occurred in 1983, when the Seahawks flew the entire front office to Miami for what turned out to be a playoff win over the Dolphins that put them in the AFC title game for the first time. She has vivid memories of flying back home on New Year’s Eve with Lionel Richie’s “All Night Long” blaring and champagne flowing.
“It was a neat experience for a first road trip,’’ she said.
Even neater was the Super Bowl win over Denver in MetLife Stadium in New Jersey, when Gregory burst into tears at her seat in the stands when Percy Harvin returned the second-half kickoff for a touchdown. After all the struggles of the early years, after the disappointment of losing their previous Super Bowl in Detroit, Gregory sensed what was happening.
“I knew we had this, that momentum was on our side and there was no doubt,’’ she said. “As opposed to the Pittsburgh game, when we had momentum and lost it. I was on the field afterward stuffing confetti in my pocket. Then we got Super Bowl rings and got to go to the White House. It’s hard to top.”
Many in the Seahawks organization assumed (and hoped) Gregory would go on forever, but during a two-week vacation this past year, she found she liked the feeling of relaxation.
“I realized that with all the hustle and bustle, working six or seven days a week, there’s something else out there,’’ she said.
Gregory, not surprisingly, isn’t making a clean break from the Seahawks. They have asked her to be a hostess in the Legends Suite, where former players watch games, and she tentatively agreed. And this month, Gregory will help run the charity golf tournaments of Green, Easley and Bryce Fisher, as well as Randall Morris’ in September.
This will be her 31st year helping out Green with his tournament, which benefits the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. Gregory is so invested in the cause that she plans to keep helping him indefinitely.
“For her,’’ Green said, “it’s 31 years of not taking a penny, not wanting anything but seeing it be successful and helping the people the tournament is for, the cancer patients all over greater Seattle and around the world. It shows you what she’s all about.”
Green added that though Gregory’s retirement surprised him, “it’s time for her to have some fun.”
Gregory plans to travel, particularly to visit family in Southern California. And she was thrilled that the timing of her retirement allowed her to volunteer at the Special Olympics USA Games during her first week away from the Seahawks. She hopes to volunteer with Make-A-Wish as well.
“She never turned her back on anybody,’’ Green said. “Sandy will always be a Seahawk, no question.”